Before the Sun brightened the day, Kyle back to his studio. Rumours about him having a female personal assistant circulated and hit the top search in less than 24 hours. That was the pain of being too famous. They spreaded so fast.
Sitting on his roller chair, not giving a damn about the voices going on in the media, the singer was listening to the beats of a new track with his huge black Sony earphones on. The one he composed before going off with the gang. Connecting his Oppo R11s to the audio mixer, he swiped his phone and clicked the piano icon. In a move, pulling out the drawer, he took out a blank piece of paper in a move and began scribbling the scores.
Working like a real professional composer.
“Fa should be on a higher note... hmmm..” he mumbled, drawing signs only he could make sense of. “.. then maybe I should add a # at the lower ‘la’...”
Testing the Fa note in the first base, “Let’s see," jerking the black key next to it, " .... a little bit.. longer?”
Adjusting the recorded melody with the 48-channel audio mixer, he decreased the echoes of the piano, strengthened rhythms from the guitar, making it more obvious to the ears. His head moved along with the tempo, two fingers on the buttons of the high pass filter and the equalizer, dragging them up and down to find the right balance.
“Yes! This is it!!” he screamed out of joy, jumping down his chair, hands in the air. “I did it!!Woohoo!”
The final version of the ballad instrumental song was let playing, filing up the atmosphere in his tiny room in the studio. The only thing he left to do was to get in the recording area and starts his voice recording.
“Another major hit?” Brandon’s voice came upon as the door slid open, appearing with two cups of hot cappuccinos in his hands.
“Awwwww. you know me, brother!” Kyle rushed to him and took the coffee, claiming it was his. “Ouch!” Blowing the tips of his fingers, “Hot!!” he cried.
Brandon chuckled. “Serve you right.”
“Whatever, Brandon. Here, listen,” he said, gesturing him to sit while he replayed his finalized track.
Staring at the big rectangular mixer resting in front of him, none of the music made any sense. Never once Brandon shut off himself from the songs that Kyle created. But this time it was different. His mind was elsewhere. He was worried. Not about Kyle’s product. But about the messages that he received from an anonymous yesterday. Should he tell Kyle about them? Or call the police? Or approach Clover? Yesterday was totally a sleepless night. Dark eye circles were obvious beneath his eyes, the buds of his beard were budding and his hair wasn’t even gelled -like how he usually would. Few strands of them were asking for attention by not lying the same place with the remaining.
Clover.. or you? he meant, glancing at the bright star.
Kyle walked around the small room, eyes closed, feeling the song soulfully, legs tapping on beats. His fingers were drumming in the air, playing along with the rhythm. Not noticing the abnormalities in Brandon’s appearance. It was only until the song ended, he finally paid attention to his manager and thus realizing the stuffs that were meant to be realized when he first entered.
“Brandon...?..” he crouched to meet his eye level. “..What’s wrong?”
Started with a sigh, he opened his mouth.. and followed with another sigh. This time, it was.. heavier.. and sadder.
“..Are you in love with Clover?” he threw out his question.
Panic struck him for a moment before he started defending. “.. What you talking about? I told you she’s just my personal assistant..”
" Clover or your fans.” Brandon locked his gaze on him. “Which will you abandon?”
“W-what?” he puked his words, almost spitting out the coffee in his mouth, “Brandon! Since when you started comparing things like these??!”
“Since she entered into your life.”
“Answer me, Kyle,” Brandon interrupted him sharply.
“Alright. Then dig your ears and listen carefully,” he stood up, reaching for the door. “None.”
And he left the room without turning back.
The view of his stubborn back made Brandon sighed for the third time. He took out his phone from his pocket and scrolled the images all over again. Double tapping, he zoomed. They weren’t fake. It was really them. The worst scenario he had in his mind was finally happening.
His thumb froze as the new text message hit his vision- Today, 11.00a.m. I’ll send you the location.
He didn’t dare to call the police. Not when he knew nothing nor have any proofs. Just by showing the policemen that message, it wouldn’t help with anything. He stared at the clock hanging on the wall, minute hand showing 3 and the shorter one on 9. He looked back at his phone displaying the horrifying text message. 11.00 a.m.
In less than two hours time, he gotta commit a sin.
“You always leave me no choice, Kyle,” Brandon stomped out the studio.
While reading the comments, articles on the Internet, Clover flipped her fingers to count the number of times her name appeared. One hand definitely wasn’t enough. In fact, it still wasn’t enough when she included her toes. So many unrelated news were targetted, blamed on her. Maybe she wasn’t in any position to speak about pride, but they were going overboard (Though she was glad that her picture wasn’t exposed up till now). Some even dug out the past about Stella Kim, saying that the incident that made Stella stayed in the hospital for a month was because of her.
“... I barely knew her at that time, dumbass,” she scolded in front of the screen, “Stop dumping me all the dirty waters!” slamming the laptop.
The fake news was making her tired. She stared at the inviting sofa she was sitting on and laid without much of a thought. But laying down wasn't the same as resting. At least in her case. Voices of those comments kept echoing at the back of her mind, disrupting her. The lump in her throat was turning big, hard to be swallowed. And without her realizing, her face was slowly smudged with her eyes’ secretions. She kept wiping them away but they just wouldn’t stop appearing. Hurling a cotton pillow over her face, she pressed it tightly, trying to cover the noises of her hiccups.
“Regretted not leaving when you had the chance?” A familiar voice jerked her.
“B...Brandon?” Clover gasped, sitting up. “I thought you were with Kyle? What are you doing here?” she glanced at him.
“I warned you to not ruin Kyle.”
“...I.. I really don’t know...” Clover lowered her head, voice trailing off. “..that it would end up like this..”
Squeezing the unrevealed cloth in his grasp, "I never wanted to put you in any danger, Clover," he said, overflowing guiltiness reflected in his sleepless eyes. "But... when it comes to Kyle..."
"I know," she shrunk her shoulders. "It was all my fault."
“..Sorry..” he murmured under his breath.
Kneeling on the seat, she extended her head,” What?”
“Nearer,” he gestured.
“Hmm?” Clover drew in her face and did as he said.
“I said...” Brandon began, “I’m sorry!” he trapped her head under his arm immediately without giving her any chance to defend and covered her breathing tools with the piece of white cloth...
Soaked with chloroform.
“Mmmhhh!! Mmhhhhhhhhhmm!!” her lips parting to be freed underneath the cloth. BRANDONN!! ; was probably what she was saying.
"I don't have a choice either, Clover!!" he pushed in the cloth deeper, ensuring it was the only chemical she was breathing in.
Are you selling... me away? Don't... Brandon... Please... her red eyes begged. Don't...
"I'm really... sorry... Clover..." he uttered, not giving in to her struggles.
Hitting him blindly for another few seconds, she finally passed out, dropping herself fully in his wrap.
And.. yes. His plan succeeded.
However, it was a plan that might break the friendship between Kyle and him.
“You really shouldn’t come here in the very first place,” he said.
In a swing, he threw the unconscious Clover over his shoulder and dumped her in the back seat of his car. It was either Kyle who meant everything to him or this girl who meant nothing to him. Of course, he chose him. Without thinking much, Brandon quickly got into his car. Bumping into anyone at this moment was literally sending him to hell.
Reversing the car, his foot was numbing, almost feeling nothing though he was pressing the oil pedal. Each time the clock ticked, his heart skipped a beat. Sending an undefended girl to danger, it was going against his principles. Against Kyle’s principles. But there was no other choice. He warned her! He warned her to stay away from Kyle! He warned her to leave this place!
It was her who didn’t listen.
And now, it was going to be her fault.. if anything bad happened to her.
“Damn!” he slapped the steering. ”Don’t waver, Brandon!! You are doing this for Kyle!!" Screaming inside his mind, he screeched the car as he dashed off.
Upon reaching the entrance of the place sent by the anonymous, he hesitated once more. The tyres were rolling in place but they weren’t moving forward. Brandon scanned the surroundings. A very well hidden place to make any illegal deals. Dark and mysterious. The nails, bricks, and other leftovers of the construction materials made everything seemed even more distorted. He bet he wouldn’t see a single thing if it was at night.
Driving in slowly, specks of dust floated in the air as the car hit the sandy ground. Brandon rolled down his windows to catch any figures moving around. He wanted to know who was the anonymous. How did he get them? Why was he so desperate to have Clover in his hands? So many questions he needed to clarify. However, there was nobody. And it made him felt that this whole thing was a trap.
“Just drop her here,” a rough, husky voice appeared from behind a pole. It sounded like he purposely made it that way, “and you’ll get the original copies.” The owner didn’t reveal his face. Only hints of his body shape could be seen.
Brandon pulled his car to a stop and hopped, cupping Clover in his hands. He tried to stay chill. But it was harder than he thought it would be.
Holding her tight in his embrace, “What do you plan to do with her?” Brandon asked, doing his best to not crack his voice.
“You don’t have to know,” the same voice spoke and instantly, hurried footsteps stomping the ground shifted his attention. They were surrounded by the men dressed in black.
The hidden man whistled and one of the men turned to look at his direction, “Give this to him,” he tossed the object in the air.
“You can leave now,” he said, handing Brandon the pen drive, “after dropping the lady in your hands.”
The rays from the Sun were trying to enter, but well-blocked by the shady trees, allowing the site to be in darkness with little light. Brandon turned to the back. The door was guarded by those people. Air started getting stuffy with the dust taking over the contents of oxygen in the atmosphere. Looking at the predators and the sorrowful prey, his muscles ached from tensing. Though he hated Clover, he wouldn’t want her to die, nor imagined her to get hurt. She was just a normal girl after all. What did she do so wrong to get strangled in a situation like this? Tears were slowly showing up at the corner of Brandon’s hazel eyes, thinking about how selfish he was.
And out of a sudden, as though somebody snapped him awake from his blinded thoughts, the familiar faces of the men made him realized a very important fact. He glanced around to study them longer just to justify his stand.
He was right.
Coming here was a mistake. A real, big mistake.
They were the same black men.
Retreating a few steps back, “How did you get the pictures?” Brandon asked, trying to drag the time to come up with a solution to flee.
Hehe. He heard him chuckled. “How I got those pictures? Ask yourself why did you save her from the AIRPORT?!” he punched the pole at his last word, wobbling the deserted building, dropping the smoky ashes onto the ground. “You messed everything.”
And that triggered the consciousness in Clover. Her brows crept in, making wrinkles on her temple. The bulges behind her eyelids were moving, as if she was trying to find her way out from a dreamland. Her fingers jerked and her body stiffened. Brandon noticed it. He threw Clover up a lil’ to secure his embrace and drew Clover’s face over to bury it in his shoulder. Don’t move, Clover, he whispered. And bit by bit, the tenses in her body relaxing, responding to Brandon’s words.
“You don’t expect me to leave a girl behind when she was chased by gangsters like you,” Brandon uttered, surprised that he sounded more even than he thought he could.
The man stepped out a foot, almost coming into his view. But he pulled it in seconds later. “She was sold as a sex slave, young man. All I did was to bring her to the buyer. What was so wrong with that?”
“The fact that she was sold as a sex slave was the cruelest thing to begin with.”
“That got nothing to do with you,” he sighed, tired of continuing the useless conversation. “I don’t want to shed any blood today. Leave her and get lost now, young man. I wouldn’t want Kyle to be sad for losing a responsible manager like you.”
The gaps were closing up. Time was urging them. But Brandon couldn’t come up with any solutions.
Clover pulled the edge of Brandon’s shirt, grabbing his focus. R-U-N, she scribbled inklessly. She repeated the same patterns over and over again in the dark. It wasn’t really a plan. But it was better than to surrender. Brandon lowered his gaze to peak at her. She was fully awake. He widened his terrified eyes, flashing her an -are you sure- look. And she answered -yes- with no hesitations.
Catching hold of her message, “.. Well.. if you say so..” Brandon bent down his knees, putting Clover on to the ground as an act. ” On the count of ... 3... 2.. 1...” he mumbled quaveringly in her ears.
Brandon swiped his feet onto the sandy area and splashed the sands to their directions, blinding off their sights. Clover gripped a whole bundle of the dirt in her hands and splatted them right into their eyes. They screamed in pain. The soreness was biting them. Seizing the opportunity, Brandon immediately grabbed Clover and reached for their car. Those men ran up to them as soon as they got into the car. Instinctively, Brandon locked the doors, began to speed towards the bright side on the outside despite the limited space.
And suddenly, BANG!
A loud, thunder-like sound penetrated through the air.
They didn’t need to turn to know what it was. One appearing right after another. Aiming at the ones in the car. The blasts weren’t showing any signs of stopping. Shooting the car, targetting the glasses, the tyres. Brandon jerked as the back tinted mirror of his car cracked spontaneously, falling down pieces by pieces, exposing them to the danger of the gunshots. Sweats were drooling down his face. Eyes filled with panic and fright. Clover crouched, hands by her ears, taken aback by how serious of them trying to turn this place into a bloody site. Gritting his teeth, Brandon pushed down his handbrake. He reversed the car in all directions, shoving the men out of their way.
“Clover, hang on tight.” Brandon pressed onto the oil pedal to the maximum and pushed through the door to flee for life.
Whatever that happened after was a blur. The car flashed with the speed of light. Brandon turned to different directions every 10 seconds, luring them away. But those men were way too good at tracking. They caught up shortly after, not giving any chance for them to escape. The expressions on their faces were freaking Brandon out. This was not a joke. The same, familiar nerve-wrecking sensation was replaying. Clover held onto the handhold as strong as she could while Brandon continued his speedy drive.
“F***,” Brandon hissed. The boot of his car was smashed by the tailing car right at the back, which was showing up at the side.
The screeches of the cars rubbing against each other sent the vibrating thrills. It was cornering them to the border of the road. “Get to somewhere more public, Brandon!” Clover exclaimed, thrusting her legs away from the door.
Speeding up, Brandon turned the wheel to their direction, using the car’s energy to push away the other car. They pushed it back, harder, stronger. The cars remained stagnant for a few moments before Brandon finally slipped his car away from the cornering and dashed forward. One more time taking the lead.
“There!” Clover pointed to steamy area on the right where it was surrounded by many people. “Brandon! Quick! Get in there!”
And he did.
As Brandon drove into the place, the car immediately got sunk into the crowd of people. It was a Sunday market. The stalls were set up at the sides, creating a gap in the middle for the convenience of cars to pass by. Hawkers, food vendors, sellers were screaming their lungs out, attracting the customers to buy their products. Phone cases. Second-hand books. Milk teas. Clothes. Too many to be listed. Some of the customers were negotiating, trying to get cheaper prices. Their loud voices somehow lifted the panic in him. Brandon looked at his side mirrors. The cars were retreating. No signs of getting down from their cars but completely moving out of their sights.
They made it.
They had escaped.
“We made it Clover!!” he took out his phone from his pocket. “I’ll call the police. I’m so gonna do it this time.”
“Useless. Do you really think that I would be in this situation if police were doing me a great job?”
“Ahh...” Brandon trailed off, and the phone silently being put down in the compartment.
“Brandon,” she continued. “Do you really hate me that much?”
Her tone was choking. “I could have died, Brandon,” staring deadly at him. “In fact...We...almost died.”
He bit his dried lips, looking away from her. What was he trying to do exactly? Even if he got the pictures, Kyle would have killed him when he found out what he did to his personal assistant today. Kyle would definitely hate him. He knew the consequences but why did he still do it?
His pride hurt, thinking about his silliness.
“..I..I’m sorry.. Clover,” he breathed, wet eyes still fixed at the people walking in and out of the Sunday Market. “I was.. too.. blinded by Kyle’s reputation.”
“...I never had any motives on you nor Kyle, Brandon,” she clenched her fists. “Trust me.”
“I know.” he stuck his palm under his chin by the window. “It was me who had the negative thoughts.”
Her words made him looked at her intensely. “What?”